Ethnicity and race shape history, science, the media, neighborhoods, schools, and politics. In turn, these concepts impact the identity and behavior in different ways, depending on the minority or majority status of the group. They are often seen as the source of the inequality, discrimination, and prejudice, but at the same time, they are also a source of the belongingness, motivation, and meaning. In general, through their formation, race and ethnicity have a great impact on the people’s life prospects. Therefore, this paper focuses on race and ethnicity, their formation and maintaining, and their strong impact on the people’s lives.
Racial and Ethnic Background in the United States
Ethnicities and races are organizational categories that have been created by human beings over time as a way of orienting themselves in the world. Throughout the history, the differences in people’s physical characteristics have become associated with various behavioral outcomes, both negative and positive. From the historical perspective, the term "race" was used to establish a hierarchy to accord one group a higher status while according the other group a lower status.
At the beginning of the 21st century, after the century of slavery, four decades after the Civil Rights Act passage, the United States is still a white supremacist society. It means that the society is based on the ideology that white Europeans are inherently superior to non-whites. This ideology was previously used to justify crimes against Africans and indigenous people who contributed to the development of the nation. According to the statistical data, a typical black family had 60% as much income as a white family in 1968; however, this number decreased to 58% in 2002. Moreover, many African Americans are not able to find a job, which results in a significant rate of black unemployment that was twice higher than the white rate in 2004. Additionally, in 2001, the black households’ average net worth was 75,700 dollars while the average net worth of white households was 468,200 dollars, which was almost six times higher. In daily life, white supremacy means that an African American applicant with no criminal record has fewer chances to receive a callback from an employer in comparison with a white applicant with a felony conviction. Therefore, in the white-supremacist society, white people will always have a great privilege.
The current condition of the demographic situation regarding racial and ethnic composition is quite different than in was 25 years ago. The greatest minority group of African Americans changed slightly from 1980 to 2000, while Asians and Latino Americans experienced a significant growth. Nowadays, Latin and Asian immigrants constitute more than 20% of the US population. Therefore, the American population changes rapidly, and these changes have political consequences. Latinos and Asians became voters, and politicians realized that they have the lack of knowledge about the impact of race and ethnicity on voting. However, this situation is not new because in the period from 1881 to 1930, the United States experienced a great immigration flow when 27.6 million people came to America, predominantly from Europe. These population changes led to the focus shift from the ethnicity to race. Fewer immigrants also came to the country from the Caribbean, Mexico, and China in the 20th century. All these immigrants were open to integration into a new life and democratization; consequently, political parties were trying to engage them even more in their activities. For instance, the AFL and the Knights of Labor played a great role in teaching immigrants how to participate in the democratic process. Moreover, all immigrants belonged to the working class, which became one of the Great Depression reasons. During that difficult time, they became even more dependent on the government’s assistance, which was proposed through the New Deal. In turn, this resulted in a greater support provided to the Democratic Party.
At the end of the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th century, the immigration influence on the American society led not only to the anti-immigrant initiatives but also provoked the introduction of many Americanization programs that were aimed at the immigrant incorporation, assimilation, and acculturation into the American society. It was difficult for immigrants to participate in politics. The immigration flow was restricted by the legislation, particularly the implementation of quotas. The Democratic Party was the first that focused on immigrants as potential voters. Due to it, they experienced a better attitude that was expressed through more literature and press published in foreign languages. For example, in 1932, the Democratic National Committee distributed more than 3 million pieces of literature in foreign languages through the United States. In four years, it created a naturalized citizens bureau with 18 units that focused on different ethnic groups. Moreover, the ethnic group organization helped with registration for voting. Therefore, immigrants had a great impact on politics; however, despite having some government support, they faced many difficulties.
Impact of Race and Ethnicity on Identity
At the same time, ethnicity and race play a great role in the identity formation. When people are engaged with the society, community, or group, such critical factors as schools, families, neighborhoods, cities, states and nations have the impact on their identity shaping. Moreover, if the category such as religion, ethnicity, race, or gender is associated with the distribution of knowledge, respect, status, resources, power, and other cultural capital in a specific context, it will be especially crucial for the identity. In the United States, daily life is strongly shaped by the ethnicity and race categories. They affect people’s way of life and predict their choice of friends, wealth, health, quality of medical care, workplaces, schools, and other life outcomes. Nowadays, unfortunately, ethnicity and race still give or deny some people a wide set of privileges and advantages.
Moreover, people’s identities determine their social space and help to understand where they belong. Often they do not understand critical consequences of own race and ethnicity in defining who they are until someone or something questions this belongingness. The race is critical for the identity because if individuals are associated with a racial group, then they are going to be affected the way they are treated or viewed by the others. At the same time, by categorizing people as an ethnicity, the attention is focused on differences in the ways of living, values, and meanings that are often regarded as equally viable and do not need to establish a status ranking among groups. Nowadays, in the American society, there are numerous concerns regarding race and ethnicity because many people see these social distinctions as a reason for conflicts and division. The ethnic patterning of people’s actions, feelings, and thoughts usually comes in high relief when they change the context or meet someone who supports another ethnic context practice and idea and discover that a normal way of thinking or feeling now looks inappropriate. For example, in the United States, independence plays a great role in the identity formation. The independent model of self is strongly integrated into the American society and people often do not realize other models of self. However, in northern Europe, in order to be appropriate, people have to be interdependent, and this self-model promotes people to consider themselves as less separate, autonomous individuals and more interconnected parts of the bigger social whole. Asians can also serve as an example of this model. The main point is that ethnicity and race create the framework for identity.
However, there are many negative issues relating to the race and ethnicity concepts. For instance, the socioeconomic barriers were developed due to racial discrimination and prejudice. The main minority groups in the American society are Latinos, Asian Americans, and African Americans and they feel a great impact of the economic status. Nevertheless, the economic status effect is different in these groups because African Americans focus greater attention on the race in comparison with Latinos and Asian Americans due to their pessimistic attitude regarding their socioeconomic prospects in the American society. Consequently, they are more likely to experience discrimination and prejudice. Latinos differ from the African American minority group because they have the most positive assessment of group opportunities and less personal discrimination experience. A similar situation is with Asian Americans due to better living conditions. Therefore, 64% of African Americans believe that too little attention is paid to race, while this percentage is significantly lower among Latinos and Asian Americans, namely 41% and 33%, respectively. The reason for such attitude is that African Americans experienced the most discriminating attitude. Thus, for Latinos and Asian Americans, economic status plays a greater role in their race and ethnicity realization while African Americans place more emphasis on perceptions of group opportunities.
Therefore, the intergroup differences in attitudes toward ethnic and racial policies can be explained by varying experiences among minority groups. Great differences between African Americans and other minority groups in their economic status experiences affect their respective tendencies to embrace a racial or ethnic identity and gain group interest in the public policy. Thus, racial consciousness tends to remain stronger among African Americans, while Asian Americans and Latinos place less emphasis on ethnic and racial considerations in their policy preferences and political attitudes.
Problem of Racism and White Supremacy
In general, the position that white people are privileged in the white-supremacist society is not controversial on the surface. However, many white people do not consider themselves racist. Moreover, they have typical responses to this claim and the first one is that privilege does not exist anymore due to the affirmative action that has made being white a disadvantage. Nevertheless, there are some doubts that these affirmative action programs have changed the white-supremacist society. The other response is that privilege is real, but it is impossible to change because it is a natural behavior of all groups. This position is arguable because it points that human choice is absent in this situation and people refuse to take political and moral responsibility. The next position is that white privilege exists, but people have unearned privileges of all kinds. For instance, those who play basketball have privileges due to their height, but they are not asked to stop playing. However, the situation with racial categories is different because these categories are not natural; rather, they were invented. They provide privileges or disadvantages only because there are people with the power to maintain and create privileges for themselves at the expense of others. One more response is that white privilege exists and this is a good thing because Europeans have civilized the worlds despite the fact that there were some bad events in the process. This is a widespread position that does not consider five centuries of brutal colonialism.
It is critical to understand that race is a fiction that does not have to be accepted, but at the same time, it is a fact that people do not have to forget. The main point is that race as a biological concept is a fiction because there is only one human race and it is normal that people have various physical differences. However, from the social perspective, the concept of race has a great meaning for social groups. As a result, the society has to face the racism problem. Racism occurs from mere prejudice in terms of power. Prejudice can be defined as hostile or negative attitudes toward members of a group based on some shared traits. It transforms into racism when one group has power to systematically deprive another group members of privileges and rights that should come with citizenship. Thus, it is believed that the United States is a white country not because most of its population is white but because powerful people assume that being American means being white. The main problem that modern US society puts an emphasis on is the idea that racism is their past, but this is wrong because it is a current problem that has to be faced. Therefore, people have to be honest with themselves, admit that they live in the unjust society, and try to fix the problem.
Race and ethnicity are complex notions that have a long and painful history. In the United States, the ethnicity and race concepts are a great problem because it is believed that this is a country of whites. As an evidence, it is possible to see the statistical data according to which white have better life outcomes in comparison with the minority groups. The worst situation is among African Americans, while Asian Americans and Latinos have slightly better outcomes. For many centuries, ethnic and racial minority groups have struggled and attempted to become independent society members. As a result, it is believed that racism is the problem of the past. However, it is a current problem that has to be admitted and handled.